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Dispute over Brown’s stem cell project

Proposal rejected: Ewart Brown, the former Premier (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Ewart Brown, the former Premier, has attempted to reignite his plan for a stem cell clinic in Bermuda, according to e-mails between Dr Brown and Michael Dunkley.

However, the correspondence shows the Premier and health minister Jeanne Atherden rejected Dr Brown’s proposal, which was first aired amid a storm of controversy nine years ago.

Dr Brown’s e-mails, shared with The Royal Gazette by both himself and Mr Dunkley, say that he and San Diego-based stem cell company Stemedica had made a presentation to Cabinet last year.

However, Ms Atherden apparently said no to the idea some six months later.

Last Wednesday, Dr Brown e-mailed Mr Dunkley and Ms Atherden, sharing with them a press release announcing Stemedica is due to begin clinical trials in the United States, using adult allogeneic stem cells to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

“Hello: Stemedica is the company who made the presentation to Cabinet with our team last year,” Dr Brown wrote. “It is shameful that a political rationale is being used to block Stemedica and Brown-Darrell clinic from opening their Stem Cell Project in Bermuda. EB.”

Mr Dunkley replied: “Good Afternoon Sir. Thank you for forwarding to our attention the news from Stemedica.

“We disagree with your assertion and believe you are aware of what is required to move the application forward. I hope you and Wanda have an enjoyable Cup Match holiday. Premier.”

The stem cell project first came to light in Bermuda in July 2007, when Dr Brown and Mrs Brown struck a partnership with Stemedica.

They promised “no-option patients” could be brought to the Brown-Darrell Clinic in Winterhaven, Smith’s, for stem cell work from early 2008. International Society for Stem Cell Research president George Daley reacted by claiming he was sceptical of any group running experimental treatment in jurisdictions without regulatory oversight.

Dr Daley warned desperately sick patients not to be misled into thinking stem cells were a miracle cure; the former United Bermuda Party, which was the Opposition at that time, called for the project to be shelved until proper regulations were in place.

In 2009, the late Nelson Bascome promised in his capacity as health minister at the time that policy guidelines would be drawn up, followed by official regulations.

Shortly before stepping down as premier in 2010, Dr Brown said in a public speech: “The clinic is still operating; the research side is coming.”

However, since then, few updates have been provided on the project.

On its website yesterday, Stemedica describes its stem cell manufacturing capacity as “among the finest in the world”.

The company states: “Stemedica has established partnerships for the distribution of our stem cell-related products with numerous world-class organisations and hospitals around the world.”

It points to links with Kazakhstan’s national research facility, where a series of government-approved clinical trials are already under way.

Meanwhile, Novastem, Stemedica’s distributor of stem cell products in Mexico, conducts research at Clinica Santa Clarita, “a fully licensed, state-of-the-art clinic located in Tiajuana”.

Stemedica further says it operates a United States FDA-compliant Current Good Manufacturing Practices facility in San Diego, licensed by the Food and Drug Branch of the State of California Department of Health and Human Services. It also has manufacturing facilities and master banks in Lausanne, Switzerland.